I don’t like shopping.

I’ve said it before, I know … but I really don’t like shopping. It always seems the bigger the purchase, the more annoying it is to shop for the item.

Purchasing a vehicle, therefore, daunted me. Especially since I last shopped for a vehicle 14 years ago. I hoped, however, that the new tools available to me that weren’t as well-developed the last time I put metal under my pedal would ease my search.

Off I went … to the internet.

Going online is not only second nature to me these days; it’s like a second home. When I was first introduced to the online world in 1991, I was immediately drawn in without a look back.

(If I have to shop, I may as well start off where I’m most comfortable. Best of all, as long as the curtains are down and the webcam is off, I can wear (or not) whatever I like.)

I knew my price range, which helped me to narrow my search. Nearly to nothing, it seemed. I realized then the more major car dealerships would be of no use to me- I wasn’t in the market for a new car loan, just a new-to-me car.

Luckily, there were any number of smaller, used car dealerships available online as well.

(In the online world, it’s possible to find almost anything, of course. And usually even twice! The second time just tends to have a naked body involved somehow.)

I found a number of vehicles I thought would be sufficiently adequate, made a few print outs, a list of locations (oddly, a number of these dealers had the same address), grabbed my ever-suffering roommate (since he had a vehicle that was not crushed), and off we went.

As it turned out, the mysterious shared address was one large car lot shared by 16 different dealers, all of whom had offices in a row at the end of the lot. We parked and began to wander, looking for the vehicles that matched my print outs.

20 minutes and five vehicles later, we had not been approached by any salesmen. I found this remarkable- usually, when at a car lot, I’m pounced upon almost as soon as I put my foot on the ground, leading me to check to see if I negligently left a fresh porkchop hanging around my neck.

As we were just about to leave, a salesman finally appeared, produced an enormous ring of keys, and unlocked the door of the first vehicle I pointed out, a silver pickup truck.

Although on my list, as I looked through the window of the truck, I was concerned to see the steering column was damaged. It looked like an enraged gorilla had forcibly ripped the ignition switch out. As I opened the now unlocked door, the … fragrance … that blew forth confirmed that yes, a gorilla apparently had lived within the truck cabin.

It must have been for a long time. And he hadn’t washed his socks. Ever.

(I know gorillas don’t wear socks. I also know it smelled like this one had. In the sun. When it was hot.)

My head spinning, we moved on to my next choice, another truck. I liked the looks of this one; it was small and reminded me of the truck I drove in college. Most importantly, the air inside didn’t smell like gorilla.

I got into the truck, struggling to fit behind the steering wheel. I know I’ve increased in size since college, but I hadn’t before encounter such a … crushing reminder. Holding my breath, I finally managed to wedge myself into place.

My knees stuck up painfully around the sides of the steering wheel. I was afraid to move my arms.

“What do you think?” asked the salesman.

“               ,                  !” I replied.

A cloud of bats suddenly flew by overhead. In the distance, dogs began to howl.

“The seat can be slid back,” he said, indicating a lever buried somewhere underneath me and the seat.

“                   ,” I squeaked.

Not far away, there came the sound of shattering glass. Somehow, dolphins began to whistle and click near by.

I sucked in my stomach even further. With black spots beginning to appear in my vision, I managed to contortion my arm between my legs and stretched for the adjustment lever. With a final heave that felt like my shoulder was dislocating, I lifted the lever with my fingertips.

The seat slid back half an inch.

“There you go!”

The salesman looked pleased. I felt my internal organs begin to shut down.

I popped myself out of the truck, my face now matching the paint.

“Maybe you should look at something bigger,” my roommate suggested. Wearily, I shook my head in agreement.

And so the morning went. I looked at a few more vehicles, choosing two to test drive. The first one was easily ruled out, as the salesman was unable to find the keys. Considering the enormity of his key ring, we weren’t surprised.

The second vehicle was not a color I would normally choose for myself, as I’ve never believed bright yellow really reflects my personality. But as my father used to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

(To be honest, that saying has never made any sense to me.)

The interior of the SUV looked nice, and smelled decidedly gorilla-free, which was a plus. The salesman pointed out the leather seats, a luxury I’ve never experienced.

The test drive was short and quick, mainly because of the leather seats. The vehicle ran well, sounded good, and fit me almost like the vehicle it was replacing. While it was slightly pricier than my budget, I would have considered it still if only the “luxurious” leather seats had not reached sub-lava surface temperatures while sitting in the direct sunlight.

Disappointed, we left the vehicle, trailing sweat and the smell of burnt leg meat. Like the prince from Cinderella, I was beginning to think I’d never find the right fit. Maybe my princess was a gorilla, and the glass slipper that was my vehicle wouldn’t fit because she was wearing socks.

(To be honest, that makes even less sense than my father’s old saying.)

We trudged back to my roommate’s car. I resigned myself to spending the rest of the day looking through more online ads, hoping for just a few more vehicles in good shape and in my price range.

“You know,” the salesman said suddenly, “there is one more vehicle you might be interested in. It just came in, and we haven’t had a chance to put up an ad for it.”

And there it was, the ship that was my prince coming in like … like a begging … horse … (I really need to work on my sayings). A dark green SUV, right in my price range, clean and simian free. I raised the hood and, just as I had on all the previous vehicle, poked around and checked the oil and hopefully looked like I knew what I was doing.

The keys were found and a test drive taken. Although I was a little rusty driving with a clutch after years of having an automatic, the ride was relatively smooth, and by the time we returned, I was sold. I’d found my next vehicle. The cloth-covered seats had sealed the deal.

I’m hopeful I’ve found a vehicle that will last me for a number of years. That would be … sufficiently adequate.

Unlike my sayings.

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My right arm keeps falling down.

(We’ll come back to that.)

For 14 years, I’ve been driving a 2000 Suzuki Grand Vitara. It started out as silver, but over time the paint has faded and worn until becoming a slightly glittery gray.

It’s been relatively reliable over the years, outside of a broken rear main seal costing $15 for the part and $700 for the repair, due to the entire engine needing to be removed.

Or when three of the four oxygen sensors in its two catalytic convertors going bad, preventing it from even running. Once again, the engine needed to be removed, only this time around, no mechanic locally could do the job.

So I hauled it 270 miles to the nearest dealership at the time, left it there, drove 270 miles home, made the same trip back a week later, and returned home once more.

It didn’t cause me many big problems, but as the nursery rhyme states: when it was bad, it was horrid.

Still, it served me well over the years. While I’ve never been one to give cars pet names, it and I have been through adventures sordid and sane, earning it the name of “my Vehicle”.

(My creativity is not always there when I need it … so I settled for capitalizing the V.)

I initially purchased my Vehicle to make my first trip to Wyoming, and that 1,712 mile round trip was made a number of times throughout our history.

With greater familiarity came greater comfort. I knew innately where each bumper ended, how it would drive in varying conditions, what noises to worry about and which to disregard, the way its hood would jitter up and down when driving over a certain speed.

I adapted as my Vehicle changed, learning to live with an open window after the air conditioner died, for instance, but keeping the other windows raised so I could still hear the radio over the noise of the rushing highway air.

For 14 years, I drove with one hand on the wheel and my arm draped up and over the back of the passenger’s seat, the best cruising position my Vehicle had to offer.

It and I became one ridiculous, bionic cyborg when I got behind the wheel.

But now, my right arm keeps falling down.

(Told you.)

Vehicular collisions are a singular experience unlike other accidents. We become so accustomed to the feeling of autonomy automobiles give us, that when that autonomy is broken by another object, moving or not, the mental shock is so sudden, so powerful, that time itself splits into different velocities.

The saying “it happened so fast” is a cliché for a reason- it’s mostly true. The actual speed of a wreck is hard to measure. “In the blink of an eye,” or even, “In a split second” doesn’t really fit.

Because while my accident occurred so fast I barely was able to react, it simultaneously was happening slowly enough that I could make out details I’d otherwise have ignored: the feeling of my Vehicle’s brake pedal as I slammed it to the floor.

The tires squealing as they locked and skidded.

The tension in my arms as my elbows reflexively locked, and nearly skidding myself.

The way the invisible autonomobile zone around my Vehicle that was never to be breached suddenly filled with another SUV, and my hood crumpling, and the crash sounding its vulgar, unique tones, and the omnipresent black and white paint dominating my vision, and my seatbelt holding me back as I went from 25 miles an hour to zero, and how my first reaction was to pull out of traffic as well as I could and shut off the engine, and the policeman running up to me to see if I was all right.

And the realization that the vehicle I’d just collided with was his.

Oops.

(I’d like to formally state that of all the goals I have in life, getting entangled with a policeman via car wreck has never been one of them.)

As I had approached the intersection on a green light, I heard a siren from my left through my open window, yet saw nothing, and assumed it was therefore behind me, not approaching me perpendicularly past two lanes of heavy traffic to my right.

Even if his SUV had had a light bar on top, I wouldn’t have been able to see it any better than the rest of his vehicle.

To wheel out another cliché, by the time we saw each other, there was nothing either of us could do.

He was fine, and I was (mostly) fine – my recently installed titanium chest armor held up nicely. I was shaken and sore, however. Luckily, I wasn’t going fast enough for my airbag to deploy, or I probably would have been left in worse shape.

Even though he repeatedly told me it was an accident, I still felt bad.

Tow trucks and insurance agents were called; pictures and statements taken. While his SUV suffered only from a slightly buckled and dented left passenger door, my Vehicle leaked fluids from its crushed front end.

I’m no mechanic, but I knew I’d never drive it again.

I felt an unexpected loss. I knew, of course, one day it and I would no longer be a team, but this was not the way I expected it to happen.

I was given a ride home. No citations were issued.

The next day, I rented a car, had a doctor check me over, and then went to the salvage yard to remove the rest of my belongings from my Vehicle.

Inanimate objects feel emotion even less than I do, I know; but as I took a last look at its dejected, forlorn appearance, my Vehicle looked like it felt even sadder than I unexpectedly did.

The glint in the headlights was no longer there.

My Vehicle had done its job well, even at the end when it kept me from being hurt as it was destroyed itself.

I sighed and patted it on the hood, thanking it for a job well done.

I drove off in the rental, a four-door sedan. Out of habit, I tried to drape my arm over the top of the front passenger seat.

The seats, however, leaned back further than I was used to after 14 years, and nothing was there when I lowered my arm.

I’ve used the rental for almost three weeks now.

And my right arm keeps falling down.

 

I don’t enjoy shopping.

Well, not exactly. I enjoy buying things. That part is fun. Comparison shopping, however, is mostly a bore.

Comparing items online is simple; doing so in real life is not a skill I have, nor do I have a real desire to do as other high-powered shoppers do: rushing around different stores in a 50 mile radius to see which outlet has the lowest price on whatever item they may be searching for in the hopes that after burning a tank of gas they can save two dollars from that store 40 miles away …

That’s just not me. In fact, I’m probably the worst shopper possible once I’m on my feet and in the door, because I tend not to care about ‘bargains’. I walk in with an item in mind and the expectation that it’s priced a fair amount that benefits both me and the seller.

Yeah, I’m an easy mark.

After closing on our house and moving in our belongings, we were faced with a literally uncomfortable situation: a distinct lack of furniture. It’s one thing to have a 50” TV sitting in the corner. It’s an entirely different thing to stand and watch it because there’s no chairs and the floor gets hard pretty quickly.

As a temporary solution, we purchased two lawn chairs and arranged them tastefully in our living room. Well, as tastefully as two beige plastic patio chairs can be placed upon wood laminate flooring.

Which is to say, not tasteful at all.

Luckily, a number of furniture stores are located near us conveniently grouped together, simplifying the process of finding the two overstuffed recliners we pictured replacing our tasteless lawn chairs.

(I’m not even convinced that the two chairs look tasteful on an actual lawn.)

I quickly discovered that freedom of choice can be a huge detriment when shopping- the greater the possibilities, the harder the decision is to make. I had an idea of what color I wanted, as well as material and features. With that in my brain, we were able to narrow down the possibilities to a much more reasonable representation our needs from which to choose.

Still, a recliner needs to pass the most difficult of tests, and there was simply no way for us to avoid sitting in many, many different chairs, trying to determine which one was a function of our requirements as well as our Goldilocks buttgroove neccesities.

It’s astonishing how tiring sitting in numerous chairs can quickly become.

Matters were not helped when my first sit-down test in the first furniture store went quickly, horribly wrong.

The first recliner we found that appeared to be all we wanted sat empty and alone, its lushly padded seat and leather-like finish practically begging me to plunk my posterior.

So I plunked.

Charmed by its warm, leathery posterioral embrace, and astonished that this very first choice could possibly be the chair that would return home with me, I relaxed, closed my eyes, and leaned back.

The back did not stop.

In cuddling slow motion, the chair continued until I lay flat back against the floor, my feet pointing towards the industrial steel roof overhead.

With heroic intent, my roommate sprang (stepped) forward and tried to help return my seatback to an upright and locked position by pushing my feet towards the ground.

The back of the chair then separated from the base of the chair, which returned to its original position, leaving me now stretched uncomfortably across the two pieces.

It was just my luck to first try an overachiever. I struggled to extract myself from this recliniest of recliners, finally managing to do so by simply sacrificing my remaining dignity.

Luckily, none had witnessed my mishap, so we casually (briskly) left the store without looking back.

It was hours later in a different store that we finally purchased our two recliners. At the end, I’m not sure if I chose the one I did because I liked it or because I was giving up or if it won for not trying to perforate my spine.

So, shopping for furniture is really not a favorite activity as a result.

During my hospitalization later that year, I learned two valuable lessons about hospital beds. First, being able to mechanically raise my upper body to an upright position was remarkably useful when I was not allowed to use my arms to raise myself.

And two, whoever invented the hospital bed obviously never needed to use one.

In addition to my inability to use my arms in a lifting manner, I was not allowed to reach or twist, either, making it nearly impossible for me to reach the bedrail and use the controls. Additionally, with the way the head of the bed lifted, simple physics decreed that as my top was raising, my bottom would be sliding towards the foot. Alleviating this by raising the feet as well nearly always resulted in a taco-shaped bed with my crumpled body as the filling.

When I decided I needed a new mattress after returning home for my lengthy recovery, I understandably dreaded returning to deathtrap filled furniture stores, and neither was I in any condition to spend lengthy spans of time shopping. I chose to forego any comparisoning and just return to the store from which we purchased our recliners months ago.

As bad as it had been to repeatedly sit and squirm to test the fit of a new recliner, testing mattresses proved even worse. Ironically, it was more tiring as well. With my cane and a paper testing pillow, I slowly shuffled around the showroom, lowering myself painfully onto different beds and trying to imagine after a few minutes how well I would feel after an entire night. Due to my condition, I wasn’t even able to test my favorite sleeping positions.

Eventually, all the mattresses began to run together, and I was no longer able to tell which I had already tested. None, however, had really slept out at me.

It didn’t help that deciding what mattress I wanted was really a decision I needed to sleep on.

But in the clearance section, I found hope once more. A pillowy dream of a mattress that felt like home to me as soon as I gently lowered (crashed) myself onto it. With my eyes closed, I blissfully felt myself swaddled in the chest hair of angels.

And then my roommate found the remote control.

First, he raised me to a comfortable acute angle.

Then the bed began to vibrate, massaging me without needing coins or a cheap motel!

I had found my new nocturnal home.

I also found the price tag marked ‘sold’.

The hirsute angels of my dreams ripped away, leaving me once again in pillowtop purgatory.

Luckily, we found another bed almost as nice, with the same features. Once again, I made my decision not really knowing if I chose the bed for its comfort, or to end my shopping ordeal.

My concerns were soon laid to rest.

At home, I quickly came to appreciate the new bed not only for ending the struggle of getting up, but as an upgrade from my old twin size to new queen dimensions, spreading out became a possibility and the cats finally had plenty of space to sleep on the bed instead of on my chest.

(Not that this has stopped them.)

While I may not have found exactly what I wanted, I certainly found the night time partner I needed, one that keeps me at just the right angle and quiets my muscles with soothing (rumbling) lullabies, no quarters required.

And hopefully, no more shopping nightmares for many years to come.

“You should be dead.”

I was finally awake and interacting with the world once more, after having my chest opened up, my heart and lungs detailed to clean out blood clots and repair cardiac birth defects, and then spending nearly two weeks unconscious while machines breathed for me.

As I slowly began my recovery, both mental and physical, I encountered many, many employees in the hospital who would greet me by name and tell me how glad they were to see me awake and moving around.

This was always followed by some variation of, “You should have died. We’re glad you didn’t!”

Even my surgeon told me he could hardly believe I lived.

(Not to put any pressure on me to get completely well again, or anything.)

I was extremely weak, and there was a lot of pain. And even though I had spent so much time unconscious, I was exhausted.

So the hospital staff began to torture me.

No, it wasn’t real torture; it just felt like it. I did breathing exercises to help my lungs recover. I was given special instructions on how to move and how to lift in such a manner as to protect my sternum while it healed. I learned how incredibly difficult it is to get out of bed without using one’s arms.

All I wanted to do was rest in bed and grimace; all the staff seemed to want me to do was sit in a chair, or walk around the care unit. Which I did, grudgingly and grimacingly. I wasn’t allowed to do the things I wanted; I didn’t want to do what I was allowed.

Even so, when I’d run into yet another nurse or orderly or x-ray technician who would smile, genuinely smile, when they saw that I was alive and kicking, it wasn’t difficult to smile back. While I still didn’t comprehend how dire my situation had been, I also was glad I was alive, pain and everything. I spoke so often to so many different caregivers during my recovery I became convinced that every employee at the hospital had taken care of me at some point.

I had a lot of thinking time. It was difficult for me to accept what had happened to me. While I could understand it, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the facts. To me, it seemed like I went to the hospital with a chest cold and woke up broken. The cognitive damage I was dealing with, combined with the memories of things that hadn’t happened, and the lack of memories of what did happen, made my experience feel like it had happened to someone else.

Except when I’d sneeze, or cough. That brought it all home when it felt like my chest was being torn in two.

A hematologist told me the clots had formed after the antibodies in my blood started attacking the walls of my blood vessels, roughening them and causing the blood to stick. What triggered this, however, is something we’ll probably never know.

He then told me I should have died (sigh) and that I had the worst case of blood clots he’d ever seen.

I told him I wasn’t sure if that should make me happy, or not.

My condition frustrated me. I expected to bounce back as quickly as I had from previous surgeries in my life, never mind how incongruent they were in comparison. My body was weak; more disturbingly, my mind was weak as well.

I tried to write with some paper and a pen one of my close friends brought me (among other things – between her and my roommate I was extremely well cared for on the civilian side of my hospital needs).

I managed to cover about a fourth of a page before my strength gave out. My disappointment escalated when I realized I couldn’t read back what I wrote.

Chickens wouldn’t be able to read what I had managed to scratch out. The only part I’ve ever been able to discern reads “Ha ha ha!”

The universe apparently laughed at my efforts.

Crafting a sentence was nearly beyond me as well. I confused words frequently. Homonyms were beyond me. Clarity was difficult to achieve. I started to believe that my writing career was at an end.

A small worry, however, compared to other matters I suffered through.

As humans, we’re constantly learning, gaining wisdom and insight where we can. For instance, while I was hospitalized, a quote from the show MASH came back to me time and time again: “No one ever died of embarrassment during a sponge bath.”

It feels like it though.

Slowly, my condition improved. I was a little stronger each day; I hurt a little less each day; I made a little more sense a little more each day. A month after my surgery, I was sent home with a cane to continue my recovery.

The cats were happy to see me.

Writing online updates for friends and family helped my mental recovery. Daily walks helped my physical recovery. But often it felt like I’d never be better again.

I spent my time reading, watching TV, and wondering how many gummy worms it would take to equal one serving of fruit. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than five pounds or a jug of milk. My jugs far outweighed both, as did practically everything else I encountered during the day.

The holidays came, feeling different than they had in the past. At Thanksgiving, I knew I had plenty for which to be thankful.

(Like my ability to not end a sentence with a preposition.)

Christmas was different, too. I felt more festive. I even put up a small artificial tree, with lights and ornaments, marking the first time in over a decade I hadn’t hung a drawing on the wall labelled “Tree”.

There were complications, of course. An e.coli infection at the end of my hospital stay had knocked back my progress. While I’d hoped to return to work at the beginning of the new year, in December it was discovered the wires holding my sternum together had pulled through the bone, leaving my chest in pieces that would require further surgery in January and delay my return to work.

I felt more medical anomaly than medical miracle.

The second surgery was smoother than the first, keeping me hospitalized for only five days. My sternum recovery time was reset to eight weeks again, but tempered by the joy I felt from having a solid rib cage once more.

Ribs aren’t meant to move independently any more than one should be able to see his heart throbbing underneath the skin where there should be breastbone instead.

This time, there were no chances taken. My sternum was reconstructed using heavy gauge wire and three titanium plates.

(I had secretly hoped for stainless steel plates so I could hang refrigerator magnets on my chest.)

Finally, I started back to my job at the beginning of March, five months after the adventure began.

(It seems my ability to write has returned, but as for quality … that’s really not for me to judge.)

An old friend mentioned online that he couldn’t imagine going through what I did.

I can easily imagine other people going through what I did because it wasn’t anything special, I told him. I dealt with it because I had to. That’s not bravery. That’s human spirit.

The heroes in my story are the surgeons and the doctors and the nurses and the respiratory therapists and the janitors and all the other healthcare workers involved in saving my life.

My roommate and my friends and my family and my coworkers and acquaintances and celebrities and everyone who gave me encouragement and kept me in their thoughts played big, heroic roles, too.

Heck, even my cats were more heroic than me, sticking right by me once I finally made it home with barely enough strength to shoo them to the side when they tried to sleep on my chest.

All I had to do was get better. And really, in comparison, I think I had the easy job.

Because I can’t imagine the helpless horror of watching any of my friends go through something similar. That takes a strength that I’m not sure I have.

Looking back, my recovery was slow and steady, with no real momentous breakthroughs.

Well, except for one …

When I was being discharged after the second surgery, the nurse bundled me into a wheelchair to take me to my ride home. The elevator was crowded with people. One family looked down at me, beaming smiles, and said just how happy I must be now that I was being discharged. Others nodded and murmured their agreement.

I looked back up at them all, and managed a tired, yet hopefully brave, smile.

“They’re sending me home to die,” I said.

The elevator fell instantly silent. The smiles froze on their faces as they tried to process and respond to what I had said.

I let the silence hang for a few uncomfortable seconds before I told them I was joking. Secretly, I was proud of myself for coming up with that joke on the spot.

It was that moment, right then, that I knew for sure.

I was going to be okay.

 

By Timothy H. Kepple

Life can be funny, with a strange sense of humor to boot, throwing events and situations at us just to see what sticks. The rate at which fortunes and follies change can make anyone’s head spin faster than a carnival side show exhibit.

A lot has happened in the past six months, and personally, I’m ready for a break from side-shows slinging life events.

(I say this as if I have any say in the matter.)

2014 was going well at the halfway mark. My long-suffering roommate and I moved into our own house in May; we adopted another cat in June; settling into a new position at work was going well for me; home improvements were being made – it was a happy time.

I had my yearly physical in September, and all was well. The pain in my left calf I felt a few days later was really the only sickness I’d had all year. When it went away after a week,  I simply chalked it up to muscle strain from work-related activity and life went on.

The new position at work was much busier and breakneck, but I did my best to adjust. I took a pillow to my office so I could take a nap under my desk during my lunch break. I was working hard, and I was exhausted by the middle of the day. The catnap helped.

As September was coming to an end, suddenly just walking a short distance took so much out of me I struggled to breathe. It hit me on a Friday evening. Increasingly, I was short of breath. Lying down left me feeling like I was suffocating, forcing air into my lungs by conscious effort of will.

By Monday morning, I did something I hadn’t done since being hired over a year ago: I called in sick to work.

I felt bad for doing so; I hated to miss a day of work and let down those counting on me.

When I didn’t feel better the next day, I called in sick one more time and headed off to the clinic to find out what was going on.

I explained my symptoms to the staff. To be honest, I felt silly even bothering them for what I assumed was the beginning of a case of bronchitis, or maybe walking pneumonia at the very worst. I expected a prescription for antibiotics and orders to sleep until I felt better.

So I was surprised by the grave looks and oxygen mask given to me. Bewildered, I answered their many questions as well as I could. Trouble breathing? Yes. Shortness of breath? Most of the time, yes. Chest pain? Mmm … four days ago when it started, but nothing since then. Any other pain? None. Headache? Nope. Fever?

That one they answered themselves. Apparently 104 degrees is worrisome. I knew I had some fever, but it was only then that I began to seriously think I had pneumonia. I was poked and prodded and wired and tested and fussed over. I was getting tired, but lying down still made it much more difficult to breathe.

I felt embarrassed for surely wasting their time. They must have been having a boring day, and now were jumping at the chance to run tests just to have something to do.

My second surprise came when the staff told me in their grave voices that they were having me transferred to the emergency room downtown via ambulance. I was sternly rebuked when I said I’d drive myself.

I was greatly disappointed when the ambulance didn’t even use its siren.

I was wheeled into the ER and parallel parked along a wall, hugging an oxygen cylinder. My memories tend to run together after that, as test after test was thrown at me in hopes that a diagnosis would stick.

I have memories of getting ultrasound scans on my body, and joking about handsome firemen in compromising situations with the woman doing the scans. Vague glimpses of trying to make a friend borrow my car. Discussions with a doctor about things I can’t quite remember, but which involved having my heart and lungs removed and replaced with mechanical devices. Selling strawberry banana sherbet that pumped from a pipe coming out of my stomach. Waking up in a recovery room in a local hotel that was making money by hosting surgeries in the off season.

Time passed slowly. I was taken in for multiple surgeries. During one surgery, I some how managed to wander off into the hospital, where I found a room to rest in for a few days before the surgeon’s assistants finally tracked me down and took me back.

I was cared for in a number of different facilities, all of which had wildly different decor and a television hung on the wall in the same spot, playing the same show, over and over.

So much time passed it was hard to keep track. I was awake during the day and sometimes at night. Winter came; and I was always cold. I could see workers outside plowing and removing snow. The TV added a new show to its endless rotation, a Christmas special of some sort. At least now I had a vague idea of what month it must be. I was visited by friends and family.

I was helpless as things happened around me and to me and there was very little I could do to be an active part of the world. I spent my time laying down in my hospital bed, unable to get up. I witnessed terrible things happening around me, shady staff making drug deals and holding dance parties after pushing patients to the side, knowing I was helpless to do anything to stop them. I simmered in my anger.

Through an unlikely course of events that wasn’t even my fault, I managed to get myself and my roommate fired from our jobs, after which I burnt our ID badges. I sternly told an orderly that I wanted to go home; he laughed at me and pointed out that I couldn’t even get out of bed.

(That kind of made me hate him a little, I’ll admit.)

Finally my last surgery was finished. I woke up once again, this time in a hospital room and in great pain.

It was nearly three weeks after I had been taken to the emergency room.

My friends explained to me time and time again with great patience what had happened.

More importantly, my friends also helped me understand what hadn’t happened to me: there was only one surgery and I’d never disappeared for three days. My best friend was neither dead, nor had he married my close friend’s 16 year-old daughter. One nurse I had argued with; another suffered with the patience of a saint as I called him terrible names over and over; yet two other nurses I had enjoyed long conversations with actually never existed.

There had been no dance parties, no illicit drug deals, and my roommate had never lost his job, while mine was waiting for me once I was well. Sadly, I’d also not won the betting pool when one of my coworkers became a father- by giving birth himself.

So much surreality filled my head; but in many ways, the truth that my friends told me was stranger and more unexpected than my internal fiction.

After arriving at the emergency room at the end of September, I had been admitted to the hospital and given a whirlwind of tests and x-rays and EKGs and CT scans.

It was discovered I was riddled with blood clots, as if one day my blood up and decided it wanted to be sausage.

If only I had known what to look for, I would have realized that I never pulled a muscle in my leg, but had actually developed deep vein thrombosis – two in my left leg, and one in my right.

Three days after being admitted to the hospital, I was taken in for surgery. My chest was opened, my heart and lungs were stopped, and in a four hour process a surgeon removed half a cup of blood clots.

One clot nearly a foot long was removed from the saddle of my pulmonary artery, where it dangled, just waiting to break free and kill me. Others were removed from both my lungs where they were developing the heaviest.

A large clot was removed from the atriums of my heart, where it stretched between the two through a hole that I’d had since birth but which had never been detected. The hole was also repaired. Blood thinners were used to destroy the clots in my legs and the unreachable clots in my lungs.

After the surgery, I was moved to the cardiac critical care ward, where the nurses worked on me for an hour before my anxious friends were finally able to visit me. I was heavily sedated and on a respirator; I was no longer able to breathe on my own due to the trauma to my lungs.

The nurses reassured my worried friends that I’d only need to be on the respirator for a few days.

They said this daily for the next two weeks.

Even though I was sedated and restrained, I thrashed around in bed, trying to break the straps holding me, reaching for the tubes coming out of my nose and mouth, pulling off any blanket covering me and any gown dressing me.

(I’m not sure why my angry unconscious mind decided that the best way to lash out was to give everyone a free show … actually, I do understand. I have a body built for clothes and placing it on display was definitely punishing for anyone in the room.)

Herculean effort was taken to keep me alive, and I didn’t help matters. I was considered “extremely sensitive”, reacting poorly and dangerously to sound, movement and touch. Multiple struggling machines were breathing for me. Visitors were cautioned to look but not touch or speak to prevent my vitals from dropping.

(Apparently, even my body is curmudgeonly.)

My health was touch-and-go; some nights staff considered the possible necessity of removing life support and letting nature take its course.

Numerous tubes drained viscous, unsightly fluids from my chest. A tracheotomy was considered. Gentle hands shaved me; fed me through a tube in my nose; cared for my bottom and did all the other things I wasn’t able to do for myself.

I was given “sedation vacations”, where I was allowed to begin to wake; but reacted terribly and was sent back into deep sedation. I remember none of this.

And then, rather suddenly, I started attempting to breathe on my own, even though I was unable to keep my lungs inflated, continuing the need for the respirator.

And then a few days later, again rather suddenly, the tubes came out, no tracheotomy was needed, and I was allowed to wake up.

I wish I could say that I remember it like waking up from a dream in a movie-screen scene, but mostly it was slowly coming to awareness of my surroundings as the fake weaved around the real.

Not only was there cognitive damage, but the powerful drugs I was given during surgery and while on the respirator caused amnesia and confusion. I still have no clear memories after arriving at the hospital, as well as a few days after I was brought out of sedation and extubated.

I was diagnosed with delirium.

A lot of information was thrown at me; very little would stick.

I was distraught by all that had happened; it had really interrupted the well-ordered flow of my life that I had developed.

I wanted to know why everyone was so worried about me. I wanted to understand what had happened to me. I wanted to know why I hurt so much.

I really, REALLY wanted to go home.

It would be a lot longer before any of that happened.

At least the dangerous part was over.

But annoyingly, the hard part had just begun.

Hello all,

I feel I should apologize. There hasn’t been a new post for awhile, and I honestly don’t know when a new post will be made.

At the beginning of October, I underwent emergency open heart surgery, and I’ve been working on recovery ever since, which takes up most of my time. There was also some cognitive damage done, which prevented me from writing at all at first, although I’ve definitely improved.

I do plan on writing columns again in the future, and when I do, you’ll be the first to know!

Labor Day.

Of all the holidays I pretend to ignore, Labor Day is not one of them. Frequently as an adult, I’ve had to work on holidays, and so a day off is a wonderful thing, let alone a three-day weekend.

(Those themselves were sparse for a number of years as well when I worked on weekends.)

In 1887, Grover Cleveland established the first Monday of September as the official celebration of hardworking everyones everywhere. This was deemed of such great historical importance that a muppet was named after him.

(I made that up. Check their pictures; they don’t really look anything alike: Grover Monster is blue, and Grover Cleveland is black and white.)

I tend to celebrate Labor Day by doing a lot of work that needs done around the house that I put off because of being too busy at work away from the house. So far, I’ve done two loads of laundry, sprayed the yard for weeds, trimmed the things in the yards that aren’t weeds, built a circular little stone wall around something in the yard that might be a weed but I’m hoping is a burgeoning tree, replaced an electrical outlet that the previous owner had cleverly painted over, preventing its use and increasing energy savings; and bought a filing cabinet for five dollars that I need to now find a place for in my office.

Like most people, I’ve been working most of my life. Growing up on a farm required it. I didn’t like farm work, and couldn’t wait to get away from it. Even if it was only for a few hours on weekends at a part-time job.

(Granted, a job was work that needed to be done as well as farm work, but somehow it felt different.)

I landed my first job when I turned 16, working weekends at a radio station. I don’t remember my interview or being hired. All I really remember is that it was my first time being allowed to drive alone, and on the way home I accidentally hit and killed a dog while it was being walked when it jumped out in front of my car.

(The owners said it wasn’t my fault, and that the dog was old, and had never done anything like that before … but I didn’t feel any better.)

Radio work was not nearly as glamorous as I had envisioned, but still had a certain charm, mainly because none of my friends in school worked at a radio station. For a long time, I wasn’t allowed to talk on the air, but eventually I was given the task of reading the obituaries on Sunday morning.

Glamorous, indeed. I was paid minimum wage, which was $3.35 at the time. But I enjoyed it, and I kept that job until I left for college.

After a few years at college, circumstances let to me needing to work again to help pay my way to a diploma. Once again, I found myself working at a radio station. This time, it was the most popular station in the area, and I was working full-time.

Five days a week. Eight hours overnight. Going to school in the day time.

I think both the job and my school work suffered. But I was suffering as well, because the country-western format of the station was really not to my liking, and at night I was only allowed to have one light on, no fans, and could only use headphones, because the owner of the station lived in an apartment above and if it was too loud or bright or breezy he’d stomp on the floor.

I worked there for two years, until I decided I really needed to concentrate on my school work if I wanted to graduate at the end of my six years at the university. I haven’t worked in radio since.

I’ve had many different jobs over the years. My first job after earning my degree was dishwashing at a restaurant. My second  job out of college was dishwashing at a restaurant.

My third job out of college was cooking at a restaurant.

(When you end up with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and photography when you’re not exceptionally good at either of them, like me, there wasn’t any job that I would have turned down.)

I’ve done practically every job there is at a number of different newspapers; I’ve worked in print shops; I’ve worked in hotels doing everything from housekeeping to desk clerk and beyond; I’ve worked doing computer repair; I’ve been a paid actor; I answered phones at a catalog store taking orders; I’ve been a paid songwriter; I’ve even worked as a bouncer at a dive bar.

(In retrospect, that was one of the most amusing jobs I’ve had, mainly because of the number of times I was threatened with bodily harm by a hooker. But those stories are for another time, and probably a different audience.)

I’ve heard the saying that one should work to live, not live to work. But I’m not good at being an idle person, and I think a lot of people feel that their career is actually a big part of who they are – there are reasons we are good at what we do, because we tend to leave jobs that we’re not good at or dislike, and like it or not, the work we do often heavily influences the life we lead and the people we are.

(For instance, some people are good at coming up with silly little sayings (“Work to live”, etc.) that end up superimposed on pictures of mountains and sunsets, printed on posters that hang around other people’s places of employment where they’re generally ignored. Or defaced.)

But no matter how much a person loves the work they do, an extra day away on a weekend is a wonderful thing. Even if that person ends up doing some sort of other work at home.

Somehow, most of this three-day weekend has managed to get away from me. Probably because I like to block yard work from my memory. But there’s still one day left.

I think I’ll celebrate this year by trying not to think about working or work that needs to be done.

I’m hoping to make both Grovers proud.